In the 1999 cult-classic satire Office Space, disgruntled corporate lackey Peter Gibbons visits an occupational hypnotherapist to address burn-out, stress, and his antipathy to TPS reports. Midway through hypnosis, the morbidly obese therapist drops dead before he can snap Peter out of it. Stuck in a blissful trance, Peter, armed with his newly chilled-out attitude, proceeds to blow off work and earn a promotion. Plus, he snags the girl of his dreams. Permanent hypnosis must be the perfect solution for irate, sex-deprived corporate minions everywhere, right? Only in the movies.
Sorry to break it to you Gibbons wannabes out there, but long-term trances are patently impossible. (Cue the curses.) In fact, most Hollywood depictions of hypnosis are just plain bunk, claims Ted Benton, a practicing hypnotherapist since 1993 and the founder of Benton’s Hypnosis Clinic in Winchester, Massachusetts.
That’s not to say hypnosis doesn’t have many useful and realistically achievable applications; according to Benton, it has more than 350. Moreover, administering it isn’t limited to full-fledged psychotherapists. Even you — yes you, reader — can learn the techniques and applications of hypnosis through the Winchester Hospital Hypnotherapy Certification Program, one of several American medical facilities offering full certification in hypnotherapy.
Benton began teaching the quarterly certification course eight years ago. The program consists of 125 to 150 hours of independent study and two weekends of instruction. Students have a year to complete their work and can finish at their own rate. Deliverables include a research paper, three book reviews, several hypnosis scripts, and written responses to case studies.
Benton’s instruction focuses on the basics (i.e., the how-tos, technique, etc.), an introduction to Ericksonian hypnosis (psychiatrist Milton Erickson is considered the father of modern-day hypnosis), and then segues into applications for hypnosis — child birthing, medical and dental issues, pain management, habit elimination or modification, age regression, phobia elimination, sports performance, test anxiety, weight loss, and sexual dysfunction.
“It’s a very intensive and extensive two weekends,” says Benton, who stresses that there are no occupational or degree prerequisites for enrolling in his program, though nurses and social workers are awarded 32 Continuing Education Units (CEUs) upon completion.
Benton’s a firm believer in baptism by fire, which is why he begins his first class by hypnotizing his students — sort of like Tasering police-academy cadets to promote empathy. Moreover, Benton wants his students to immediately understand the power of hypnotism. He then teaches three strategies to effect “induction” — in layman’s terms, the ways to put a patient into a deep and effective hypnotic trance. Next he discusses the use of positive affirmations, mini-metaphors, and indirect suggestion — procedures one would use with the patient once they’ve been “induced.” By the end of the first weekend, he has his students hypnotizing each other, engaging in “round robins,” while he supervises their performances and gives feedback.
A good chunk of Benton’s students have been medical doctors and psychotherapists, but he’s also trained dentists, nurses, and social workers. Occasionally, people who are simply curious sign up for the course. “I taught a few retired folks once. I also had one kid who was a freshman in college,” says Benton. “I actually saw him a couple years ago. He made a lot of money doing stuff for athletic performance for students in college, as well as helping people with gambling and smoking addictions.”
Interestingly, the prospect of smoking cessation is what attracted Benton to hypnosis in the first place. After being cured of a lifelong habit in one 10-minute hypnosis session, Benton, who was ignorant of the field, realized he’d found his raison d’être. Now he’s a national and international hypnosis instructor who has been featured on CNN and the Discovery Channel, and delights in teaching students everything he knows about a therapy he feels doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
Impressions of hypnotism we get from movies and TV and night-club acts do little to legitimate it as a tool for real healing. Understandably, Benton vehemently opposes Hollywood’s harmful portrayals and the nefarious stunts of stage hypnotists. “These stage guys create an illusion that there’s a loss of control and that everyone is under [their] spell, which, of course, is pure garbage, because really there’s no loss of control or consciousness,” explains Benton. “The truth is that in hypnotism, you’re more in control than when you’re not because you’re really in the zone.”
So what is hypnosis, really? The key, Benton explains, is the cooperation of the unconscious mind, which he likens to a computer’s hard drive. Every event you experience and every corresponding emotion is stored, uncritically, in your unconscious mind. The conscious mind, on the other hand, is like RAM — which consumes only about five percent of the computer’s power. The conscious mind is critical, ethical, judgmental, and protective; hence, for people to heal via hypnotism, it needs to be circumvented.
Once a subject is induced, the therapist aims suggestions, affirmations, and the like at the unconscious mind. This can allow people to overcome their psychological demons and even some medical issues, such as skin disorders, high blood pressure, and fibryomyalgia.